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Wine is not an afterthought here either. The restaurant's sizable list is studded with value bottles and intriguing selections ranging from $30 to $100, with glasses starting as low as $7. Teodosi acts as his own wine buyer, and he does a great job. A 2004 Bonacchi Chianti Riservo we found was a steal at $38 a bottle, a smooth, juicy red full of dark ripe fruit and subtle spice. It paired perfectly with the bold flavors of fiordilatte cheese plated with mountain-cured prosciutto ($12.50). The hearty, rustic provolone borrowed sweetness from a splash of aged balsamic vinegar and more of Teodosi's house-roasted peppers. Stellar.
Sipping a glass of wine, eating fine imported cheese, it's easy to feel like things are falling into place. The restaurant itself is lovely to behold, formerly belonging to the fab Cafe Joley. When Teodosi moved in this January, he gave it a cosmetic overhaul, hanging red drapes to accent the wrought-iron chandeliers and outfitting the walls with broad mirrors framed by hand-painted Venetian tiles. If you sit inside, opt for a seat in one of the plush red booths that runs across the length of each wall. If you'd rather dine alfresco, there's patio seating too — Teodosi is in the process of adding an outside bar to complement it. Meanwhile, he uses the adjoining "Bar Rogue" space next door for private parties and overflow.
Entrées at Caruso run a wide gamut from around $18 to more than $40, that for a double-cut veal chop doused in truffle oil and porcini mushrooms. Those prices can seem either reasonable ($18.50 for pappardelle with wild salmon and dill) or a bit out of whack ($28.50 for veal saltimbocca). That's not so much due to any deficiency with the veal — it's a fine dish, featuring two tender cutlets napped in a rich sage gravy and served with creamy mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. It's more that the pasta dishes are just so much better — and so large (a habit Teodosi says he learned while working in Chicago, a town of big eaters).
The pappardelle, for example, is a flat, broad noodle Teodosi makes in-house. In one preparation, it's graced with big hunks of moist wild salmon draped in silky tomato-cream sauce, which itself is imparted with smoked salmon. Another version ventures to Sicily, where it's paired with eggplant and swordfish ($26.50). With either preparation, you'll have enough leftovers to last you another meal. Same with a bowl of linguine al limon ($26.50), advertised as shrimp- and scallop-studded pasta with creamed leeks, mint, and lemon. My only complaint: I had a hard time detecting either mint or lemon in the rich cream sauce.
More untouchables: a simple Tuscan salad with roasted beets and the most amazing citrus-scented carrots ($9.50). Or soft and supple gnocchi made rich with Bolognese sauce ($18.50). My friend John absolutely loved the shrimp and scallop risotto ($26.50), heady with the aroma of sea and saffron. Teodosi also makes a version with farro, a hearty Italian wheat that's a little like barley. You probably won't find the Roman staple on many Italian menus down here. And that's part of what makes Caruso such a nice change of pace — it holds just enough surprises to keep from feeling familiar. In a scene inundated with Italian restaurants, that's a great thing.